Every day, Joe Casella puts on his trusty optivisor and, with hands as steady as a surgeon, takes on his next project in silver, gold or platinum.
The owner of Casella Jewelers Inc. at 355 Furys Ferry Road has been in the business for more than 40 years.
"What I love about it is every day I work on something different. Every time I work on something, it's a challenge. But I have the know-how and ability. The best thing is to see a customer leave smiling and happy for what I've done. That takes place every day. That's why I feel good about coming to work," he said.
Casella has gained a reputation as the fix-it guy. People bring him items they say no one else could repair.
"I've been doing this for so long that I've gotten good. I'm probably one of the oldest jewelers still in business in Augusta," he said.
His father, Leonard Casella, started Casella Jewelers in the mid-1940s. Joe joined the business in 1968 and took the reins in 1990.
Customers also come to him for repairs on inexpensive items, such as costume jewelry.
"I work on it all because I came up in the industry when people had a lot of costume jewelry and nobody would work on it. I started working on it, and I've continued to try to help anybody with any problem. If I can't, I just tell them the truth," he said.
The economy has hit the jewelry industry hard because many people don't have extra money to spend, Casella said.
"The repair work has kept me going," he said.
Six-year employee Sue Lingenfelter has worked for several jewelers over the years. She said Casella is an expert at what he does.
"He's a very accomplished jeweler. He's able to fix some things that a lot of people won't even touch, which is very amazing," Lingenfelter said. "I've been a bench jeweler, so I know how hard some of these things are. I don't know how he does it all. He holds things differently. It's not how most jewelers do it. Because he's self-taught, he figured out himself what's best for him and it works."
Casella doesn't plan on retiring soon. His children and grandchildren haven't expressed interest in taking over the business, but for now, he's carrying on the family tradition.
"I enjoy coming every day. It's been very good. It's been rewarding. It's gone by too fast," he said.
Casella's love for jewelry has inspired the names of some of his beloved Boston terriers: Pearl, Jewels and Peeps, which come to work with him every day.
He doesn't like leaving the dogs at home all day, and they love coming to the shop and interacting with customers. Shoppers look forward to seeing the dogs and bring them treats.
"Some people come by just to see the dogs," Casella said.
An Augusta native, Casella grew up around the jewelry business. As a boy, he played with tools or old watches at his father's work bench at home.
His mother, Cleo Casella, was a buyer for Lily Tulip Cup Corp.
Casella said his father learned how to repair watches when he was in the Army, then started in the jewelry business as a watchmaker at Friedman's Jewelers. In 1945, he began leasing space at Bowen Brothers Hardware at 905 Broad St.
About four years later, his father moved to 755 Broad St., a few doors down from the Imperial Theatre. Three of Casella's uncles, Victor, Vincent and Louie Casella, operated businesses close by. Victor owned an optometry practice, Vincent operated Snappy Hamburgers and Louie was the owner of a sandwich shop on Eighth Street.
Over the years, Casella Jewelers has moved to 126 Eighth St., next to French Market Grille West on Furys Ferry Road and to its current location, where it has been for 11 years.
In the genes
After graduating from North Augusta High School, Casella took a job at telephone company Southern Bell for three years.
"My dad thought that I had learned how to be responsible, so he asked me if I wanted to come into the business," said Casella, who was first offered a job as a salesman.
"I wanted to further my education in it because (sales) was boring. I wanted to do more because I liked it," Casella said.
He started teaching himself how to work on jewelry. In those days, it was difficult to find jewelers' tools.
"So I went to a welding shop and bought the smallest little torch that I could get to teach myself. I did that for about a year or so," Casella said.
Next, he enrolled in the Gemological Institute of America and learned repair skills, stone setting, diamond setting, wax carvings and design. He wanted to go to school to learn the best techniques, he said.
"Back then, you learned on gold. Nowadays, you learn on base metal or sterling silver. You don't work on gold at these schools because gold is so expensive," he said.
Casella took the reins of Casella Jewelers in 1990, when his father started scaling back his hours at the store. His father died in 1995.
"It's been a gradual process of learning and knowing how to be a businessman, how to treat customers right, how to do extra special work," Casella said.
Annie Alperin has been a customer since 1975.
"He tells you the truth about everything. I don't know one thing he can't fix. He's just so talented," she said. "I send a lot of my friends to him because he's very fair and he does a very good job. He just has a very good reputation for being a fine jeweler."
Jewelry styles have changed over the years, Casella said.
"Things come and go. Way back when, everybody was buying white gold, then everybody was buying yellow gold. Now everybody's back into white gold. All these people are turning in their yellow gold because nobody wears yellow gold," Casella said.
Other new trends include Stackable Expressions rings, a line of Hershey's Kisses jewelry, silicone watches and Zable bracelets and charms.